Thursday, November 23, 2006

Last chance...

This security video still shows a flock of about a dozen wild turkeys waiting on the outbound platform of a New Jersey Transit rail station yesterday, November 22, 2006. The station is located approximately 20 miles from New York City. Apparently they were waiting for the next outbound train to escape their fate...

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Santa Trains and Insane Trains

As the holiday season takes hold--am I the only one depressed by ubiquitous Christmas music in mid-November?--Santa Trains come down the tracks in many states, in partnership of course with CSX and other railroads, delivering candy, stuffed animals and Christmas accessories to excited children. One particular Santa Train, which runs between Kentucky and Tennessee, passing through Virginia's southwest corner, is considered the official kickoff to Christmas in rural areas largely disadvantaged along economic lines. Chaotic scenes ensue, according to this article, with children pelted in the face by candy bars and stuffed animals. Contributing to this year's craziness was the presence of country/bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss. I always appreciate the carnivalesque and excessive aspects of holiday cheer.

Speaking of riotous scenes, if you've never ridden Amtrak during the holidays, you're missing out on quite a, uh, treat. The trains inevitably sell out--I noticed that both the Cardinal and Crescent trains, which pass through Charlottesville, are booked for Wednesday--and Amtrak's measures for rider capacity are imprecise at best. Two Novembers ago, I had to stand for 15 minutes on the Cardinal before being seated--in the Cafe car! Should this happen to you, keep in mind that your ticket, in most cases, entitles you to a reserved seat. So, when you reach your destination, even if you had to stand or sit in the cafe car for only a portion of the trip, approach the ticket counter and demand a full refund. Most likely the agent will have you fill out a form that will then be sent to Amtrak headquarters. It will take a while to receive your voucher, but you will. Happy traveling, everyone!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jets miss each other by 35 feet at O'Hare

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that two planes missed each other on the runway of Chicago O'Hare by 35 feet, not 300 feet as the Federal Aviation Administration originally reported. A cargo plane and a United Airlines jet nearly collided on July 23. Authorities cited controller error as the cause, and this was one of five runway incursions at O'Hare this year.

US Air and Delta May Merge

The big news today in aviation is that USAir has made an offer to purchase Delta Airlines. The resulting airline would be the nation's largest--you'll recall that USAir merged with America West last year--and supporters argue that it would drive prices down. Of course, an alternative logic has it that mergers, insofar as they reduce the number of airlines and the competition between them, lead to fare increases in the long run. We'll have to see. Delta hasn't agreed to the acquisition, which would remedy the struggling airline's bankrupty concerns.

USAir means serious business. A Dividend Miles member, I received an email from the company today stating its interest in and reasons for purchasing Delta. It remains unclear what hubs the new airline would use. Would Cincinnati be phased out? Or Atlanta? After all, Atlanta's quite proximate to Charlotte, USAir's current hub. Workers at these hubs must be worried. I'm quite excited by the prospect, as hopefully my elite status with Delta would translate into elite status with USAir. Of course, unless USAir expands its first class seating--and I'm not holding my breath--there might not be room for me and the thousands of other "elites" hoarded together under one frequent flier umbrella. Is that rain I'm feeling?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a cancelled flight…

Airports take all sorts of steps to deter birds from crossing airplane flight patterns, from displaying plastic owls to experimenting with high-pitched sound deterrence. Inevitably, though, a bird strikes a plane or gets sucked into a jet engine. The planes fare better than the birds, but after each collision planes must be inspected and in some cases repaired. A friend of mine missed his flight from Dulles to Roanoke recently because of once such plane-bird collision. Unlike many other cancellations, though, airlines won’t pick up the cost of meals or a hotel stay for flights cancelled by a bird strike. It’s instead dismissed as an “environmental hazard.”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"You can only be free...when you have nothing to lose"

A 20 year-old man from Frankfurt, Germany, decided that he wanted to travel Europe by train. His preferred travel class - outside the train.Also known as "The Trainrider", this guy was diagnosed with leukemia and chose to spend his last days "train surfing" and videotaping his escapades. He died earlier this year - not from surfing, but rather cancer. The tribute video, containing footage filmed in 2005 before his death, can be viewed at this link. It's pretty impressive (and somewhat poignant, knowing that this represents his final days)...the ICE bullet train shown during the beginning and end of the video routinely travels at speeds of 300 kph (186 MPH).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Farely Indecisive

Last week United tried to raise its fares but backed down after other airlines failed to follow suit. But consumers who breathed a sigh of relief should summon some more air. Late this week Delta, Continental and American raised fares by as much as 10 dollars for both business and leisure travel. No doubt United will soon do the same. Competition from discount carriers doesn't factor in here, because the fare increases apply to routes not flown by Southwest or JetBlue.

Where competition exists, prices remain quite low. Texan travelers must be happy, because Southwest's penetration of Dallas, which has the carrier locked in a fare war with American, has generated super-cheap fares. One way fares from Dallas to NY can be purchased for as little as 50 dollars. It's not clear how long American can remain in this struggle before it waves a white flag for its orange, red and yellow foe.

You might be wondering why fares continue to increase as fuel prices go down. The legacies insist that fares never caught up to rising fuel prices, and that they're still searching for the right price. As the holiday season approaches, I imagine their "search" will take them sky-high.